Using Gantt and PERT to Improve Efficiency

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While many project managers focus solely on outcomes, the process is often a deciding factor in the success of a project. Outlining the various steps and tasks associated with a complicated project can streamline the overall process and provide a structure for the project. In addition, visualizations can help clarify outcome goals and create more manageable tasks and subprojects.

According to Shannon Williams of Lucidchart, Gantt and PERT charts are systems designed to help project managers outline large projects, designate roles, set up realistic timelines, and create a reasonable work plan. According to Linda Russell of Project Smart, both Gantt and PERT charts are “useful tools for visualizing and communicating information about projects.”

If properly implemented and understood, Gantt and PERT charts can be easy to follow and create for future projects. The following examination of these tools can help project managers best use Gantt or PERT systems throughout their projects’ life cycles.

Gantt Charts: Break the Project Down

The first step in using the Gantt chart system is to break down tasks into manageable pieces. Wrike’s Lionel Valdellon points out that organizing tasks into smaller units makes it easier to keep realistic project accomplishment timelines. The Gantt chart setup process begins with larger components that are further separated into all necessary steps.

By separating tasks into smaller units, project managers can more easily parse out tasks without overwhelming or accidentally overburdening team members. This level of organization also transforms what can initially be an amorphous project into a more structured, concrete plan.

Gantt Charts: Find the Time

Melanie Haselmayr of Forbes describes Gantt charts as one of the best choices for time-sensitive projects that require establishing a timetable. By including realistic time frames, project managers can take advantage of one of the major positive attributes of Gantt planning.

Successfully mapping the temporal aspect of a project requires insight into employee culture and schedule, according to Team managers should have a keen sense of employees’ capabilities. Fred Morgan of Project Smart cautions managers to be mindful of any outside events or projects that may compete for people’s energies and attentions.

Smaller teams are often able to complete a timeline establishment together as a collaborative effort. However, Gantt charts are often used for complex, high-volume projects that need a large team. Selecting a team manager with an educational background in team management or extensive project management experience can make this part of Gantt chart creation easier and less time-consuming.

Gantt Charts: Visualize the Flow

A Gantt chart.

Project managers can use a variety of easy-to-use tools to make the distinctive bar portions of Gantt charts, such as Excel, Ganttpro, and Smartsheet. These bars help establish relationships between tasks: Many cannot be completed until the previous task is accomplished. This visualization method helps team members see their own part in a project and how that part connects with the rest of the project instead of solely focusing on their individual pieces.

Gantt Charts: Keep the Progress Flowing

Once a project manager creates a Gantt chart, the chart needs to be regularly updated to reflect changes in tasks, such as completions or delays, plus the accompanying shifts in timeline estimations. Tracking progress on a Gantt chart allows employers the opportunity to reward small milestones to improve employee confidence.

MindTools recommends updating a Gantt chart regularly to demonstrate progress to all team management, team members and investors involved with or keeping track of a project.

As team members track their progress, they can become more efficient with time spent working on tasks. Valdellon explains that since project managers can easily plan ahead with some accuracy, team members have a visual guide to their places within the larger project and incentive to complete tasks according to the timeline.

PERT Charts: Subdivide Tasks

An acronym of Program Evaluation Review Technique, PERT is another visual tool to help team managers represent a project and its many subtasks and dependencies, according to MindTools. However, unlike the Gantt chart system which uses a graph-like structure, PERT uses a system of shapes, typically circles or rectangles, to symbolize tasks and connective arrows to demonstrate relationships.

As with Gantt charts, team managers should begin by subdividing the larger project into more manageable pieces. These smaller tasks are then assigned to various team members according to their various skill sets and abilities.

PERT charts are more concerned with task interdependence and relationships than Gantt. A detail-oriented approach to the task-listing step is imperative for the PERT chart to be as useful as possible with minimal need for revisions or late additions.

PERT Charts: Plot the Activities

A Gantt chart.

Plotting activities using the PERT chart system is the function that differs from Gantt charts. Using shapes and arrows, team managers chart the projected path of the project, from smaller, dependent tasks to larger milestones. While the overall chart is more heavily emphasized than a detailed timeline, MindTools recommends including an estimate on the interconnecting arrows to offer some temporal structure.

PERT charts are ideal for demonstrating relationships between tasks and the order those tasks need to be completed. This arrangement makes it particularly suitable as part of the preplanning process for larger projects. According to Shannon Williams of Lucidchart, PERT charts are essentially a visual way to “determine the critical path” of a large project, therefore streamlining activity completion and efficiency. PERT charts can be created using Excel and resources such as Lucidchart and SmartDraw.

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